Definition - What does Fortified mean?

Fortified is a wine style, usually coined as a "Fortified Wine." A wine becomes a fortified when the winemaker decides to add spirits - a distilled wine that is either flavorful, like brandy, or flavorless neutral spirits - to the wine during the fermentation process. This kills the yeast, halting the conversion of sugar to alcohol and producing a sweet, dessert style wine with higher-than-usual alcohol levels.

There are several kinds of fortified wines, the most familiar being Port, Sherry and Vermouth. The kind of fortified wine depends on maybe factors, including country/region of origin, base-wine grape varietal, type of spirit added, fermentation duration and aging time. Fortified wines can be made with white or red varieties, grape-based or other fruit-based spirits and, most typically, are aged in oak barrels.

WineFrog explains Fortified

All fortified wines fit into three categories, depending on when the spirit is added:
  • Mistelle (prior to fermentation)
  • Vin muté (during fermentation) - Port, Vermouth, Madeira, Marsala, Vins doux naturels
  • Vin viné (after fermentation) - Sherry, Commandaria,
Vin muté fortified wines are usually categorized as sweet or dry, with the ranges of each "category" incorporated into those two classifications. Sweet fortified wines are made when the spirits are added within the first day and a half of fermentation; the yeast is killed off right away, leaving the sugar levels the winemaker desires. Dry fortified wines are made when the spirits are added closer to the end of fermentation; the yeast has had time to convert most of the sugars, leaving the wine high in alcohol but lower in sugar.

Fortified wines range in color depending on sugar levels and aging time. White wines can be anywhere from golden-yellow to amber; reds anywhere from garnet to violet. On the nose, fortified wines typically have a complex blend of scents. Whites can include candied fruit, candied orange peel, white flowers, apricot, peach and spice; in reds you’ll find cooked fruit, dried fruit, prunes, figs, cinnamon, liquorices, violet, mocha and cacao. As for the flavor profiles, fortified white wines have candied fruit, honey, apricot, peach, flowers and spice; while reds are characterized by notes of cooked fruit, black fruit jam, chocolate and spice.

Most people enjoy fortified wines as an aperitif - sipping it alone before a meal or after dinner. However, fortified wines do pair well with dishes that are tart, sharp or salty - flavors that won’t compete with the sweetness of the wine. Pair with a cheese plate that includes blue-lined cheese or sharp, extremely old cheddars. Nuts, cream-based or dark-chocolate desserts will also blend nicely with the sweet wine.
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